Don’t Ask a Man Who I Am

atlas taking off from kabul

There is a very famous saying about Afghans about how before they introduce themselves they say: “I am proud, I am Afghan.”

But my question is can I even say that I am Afghan?

You might wonder why not. It is because I am a woman and an Afghan woman is not considered Afghan because she does not have a right to an Afghan identity. My evidence: I was denied my Afghan passport until I presented proof that my father or husband have been allowed to get a passport.

Thankfully I have both a father and a husband but my question is, what makes them more qualified to verify that I am an Afghan woman? And what about those women who do not have a father or husband? They will be asked to bring their brothers and sons to verify their identity in Afghanistan. Is there a category or degree or quality of being Afghan that makes men more Afghan than I am?

Now the question comes: Am I proud to be Afghan?

One of my friends tells me that something similar happened to her. “A few years ago when I got my passport in Herat they asked me the same. They said either your father or brother has to come and sign a paper. I did not like it, but I had to call my brother to come and then they said ‘you have to call your father.’ Stupid people drove me crazy.”

I was furious because if we continue to accept this kind of irregularity, it will become the normative law for women in our country. She said they had her passport in their hands, but would not give it to her. “I told them I am old enough and having a passport is an absolute right of every citizen! But you know how backward thinking and aggressive they are, no one listened to me, and I had to call my brother, then my dad. I had no other option,” she told me. 

Is it true that we have no other options? Don’t we always have the option of denouncing something that is wrong and raising our voices against it?

Day by day, the rules and bad behavior of government bureaucrats are dehumanizing women in this country. Lack of education and the Afghan version of Islam are used as weapons to keep women down. A 28-year-old woman is asked to bring her father, brother, or husband to verify her identity and then her father or husband has to sign that she is traveling with their permission with this passport? I did not believe this.

So I contacted the Ministry of Interior Affairs to find out if there is such a law. Everyone I asked told me there is no law authorizing passport officials to deny a passport to an Afghan citizen because of gender. 

Next, I returned to the passport directorate to ask to see the document that shows they can refuse passports to women who do not have their men’s permission. I went to the Group B window and asked the officer to give me my passport. While checking my documents he asked me the same thing, “Is your father or brother with you with their identity cards?”

“No,” I said.

“How are you going to get it?” he answered.

I told him to check my age in my Tazkira – my National Identity card.

Then he started shouting. “Sister, we are still using the Taliban’s government law in the passport department. This corrupt government in these past twelve years was not able to pass a law for the passport department that is in accordance with our constitution.”

I started recording him on my mobile phone, as he repeated over and over again about the law. I asked to see the law in writing, because this is my right. 

While I was talking, men standing behind me in line were telling the officer behind the window to forgive me. “She is just a Sia Sar (a black head). Forgive her; she will not do it again.”

I turned to them and asked, “Why should any sons of men forgive me? What have I done? I have asked only for my legal right to get a passport, and who are all you? Are you my representatives?”

There were two officers behind the window. The junior officer tried to taunt me by saying many times, “Have you lost it? Why will I give you a passport if you do not get your father or husband or brother’s permission?”  

I recorded him until one of the men behind me told him that I was recording, and the officer took my phone and deleted my video. He then called me into his office, with my male colleague.

By Lima

Lima’s story continues in part 2. Photo by Eliezer Gabriel/ISAF.


  1. What an aggravating experience that must have been, Lima. Hoping all works out and that you receive your passport. More than that, I hope you are still able to say that you are proud to be an Afghan. Change will happen. Most times, unfortunately, it happens very slowly. Until then, walk tall!

  2. Dear Lima: There’s a famous movie scene where a man declares he’s “mad as Hell and he’s not going to take it anymore!” You have every right to be angry and to stand up for your rights! And then to have to suffer men calling you a Sia Sar (!) and then to have that man confiscate your phone and delete your recording? I know so much was at risk for you in these moments, but you are right–there are times that you must denounce. I am wishing you safety. I am wishing you justice. Stacy

  3. Mary Lannon says:

    Lima: Great writing that tells of brave acts. I love how you use questions in this piece to demand justice. You appeal again and again to words familiar to every Afghan to make your case. Brilliant! It reminds me of a piece by an American Sojourner Truth (now dead) called “Ain’t I A Woman” in that it also uses questions to demand justice. I also greatly admire your bravery in standing up to the authorities when you believe that they are acting illegally and unjustly. It’s also brave to document their illegal activities. You are a strong person. I do worry for you. I wish you safety and justice. Mary

  4. Mahnaz Rezaie says:

    This is outrageous. I know. A few years back in Kabul I wanted to get a passport and they weren’t giving me one, they asked me to go back to Herat but I argued with them that I am a student and couldn’t go back to Herat. They asked me for a proof. So, I had to take them a letter from AUAF, explaining that I was a full time student and couldn’t go to Herat to get my passport. If we don’t complain and address these kinds of issues, they will become part of our daily lives, as it has become now. There should be women like you and I to speak up. This is our right to be able to get a passport or travel alone without the need for a man to represent us. Thank you for writing this. We need to have a campagin to raise more voices so that officials can hear us and bring changes.

  5. Dear friends, thank you for encouraging words. I encourage you to read the second part of this article too, because I did try and I am still trying not to give up on nonsenses happening like this. What i can do is to raise my voice and inform as many people as possible. I am trying to translate this article to local languages and publish it in an Afghan news agency. Many Afghan need to know, because most of the time something becomes law due the the ignorance of people. Part 2of this article is up now.

  6. Salma Alokozai says:

    Dear Lima,
    You inspire me by your writings not only because you can write good articles, but because you have the courage to rise your voice against injustices and wrong things, and bcoz you are not careless and ignorant, because you don’t bear what no one must bear! Keep up the great work!

  7. Heather W. says:

    I admire your strength and resilience against the government.
    This article is beautifully written and I am inspired by your courage to stand up to male dominated systems. I will continue to fight with you!

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